After record Clark County drug deaths, big drop in fatal overdoses

Clark County saw a record number of drug overdose deaths last year for the third straight year, but a significant drop in recent months has local leaders optimistic the crisis might have peaked.

Drug overdoses claimed the lives of 104 people in Clark County in 2017 — an average of one drug death every 3.5 days, according to data from the Clark County Coroner’s Office.

RELATED: Drug recovery changing in Springfield, nation, offering hope

Clark County saw about 36 drug overdose deaths per year between 2011 and 2014, but that number more than doubled to 73 in 2015 and surpassed that total again at 70 in 2016.

The majority of last year’s drug deaths involved fentanyl, Clark County Coroner Dr. Richard Marsh said. Many of the deaths involved multiple drugs, including cocaine and other versions of fentanyl, such as carfentanil.

In the most recent County Health Rankings released last month, Clark County ranked third in the state in drug overdose mortality rate at 48 per 100,000 people. Clark County tied with Ross County and trailed Miami Valley neighbors Montgomery and Butler counties, the data says.

However the majority of the drug deaths last year — 79 — took place during the first six months of the year, a glimmer of hope for local health officials that the epidemic has crested.

Seven deaths are suspected drug overdoses as of mid-March this year, Marsh said.

“It’s really slowed down,” Marsh said. “I hope it stays that way but you really can’t predict it. I hope this is a peak but I really can’t say.”

‘Everybody making an impact’

Nearly 43 percent of the cases investigated by the coroner’s office last year were accidental drugs deaths, Marsh said.

About 90 percent of the people who died from overdoses were white and the majority were men, Marsh said.

The majority of the deaths involved fentanyl or versions of it, said Anna Jean Petroff, an epidemiologist at the health district. The data also shows people are people who regularly use cocaine have died of overdoses because the drug was laced with fentanyl.

MORE: National group works to unite recovery community in Springfield

“It’s dangerous,” Petroff said.

No one thing has led to the major decrease in drug overdose deaths since July 2017, Doolittle said. Several factors have contributed, she said, including more Narcan kits — the brand name for the overdose reversal drug Naloxone — available to the public.

The community also has stepped up efforts in the criminal justice system to help drug users seek treatment, she said.

“I feel like every sector has their hands in it in some way,” Doolittle said. “Everybody is making an impact and that’s because dollars have been fueled in each area to do that.”

Not using anymore

While the number of deaths in Clark County has decreased in recent months, the community must continue to fight addiction, said Wendy Doolittle, president of the Clark County Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Coalition and CEO of McKinley Hall, a local treatment center.

She hopes funding doesn’t decrease as the community sees fewer deaths, Doolittle said.

MORE: Experts: Cash clinics divert treatment drugs to Springfield streets

“There are millions of people who aren’t dying but their quality of life is terrible,” she said. “It corrupts their family. There are so many other pieces to addiction.”

The coalition hopes to continue to fuel resources into the system because Doolittle something else is always coming around the corner.

“Heroin was not the first epidemic — crack cocaine was,” she said.

The community is doing good things, Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said, but the sharp decrease in overdose deaths has to be related to the drugs on the street.

“You can get a bad batch at any time,” he said. “We need to continue to make access to treatment available. We can’t let our guard down because the number of deaths have gone down. We have a population of folks who are addicted to whatever that drug of the day is and we need to help them so that the next bad batch that comes in, they’re not using anymore.”

Meth on the rise

Methamphetamines are making a comeback across the Dayton region, according to the June 2017 report from the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network. On a scale of 1-to-10, Meth is about an 8 or 9 on its availability scale – making it very easy to get locally, according to the network.

RELATED: Springfield native living clean, successful after prison, addiction

Drugs typically come from the west to the east, Ohio State Highway Patrol Springfield Post Lt. Brian Aller said, and they go in waves.

“When you have an area that’s high in opiates, later comes methamphetamine to counteract the opiate,” he said.

Drug users have told law enforcement they’re scared to use heroin because of all of the people overdosing, Springfield Police Division Opioid Diversion Officer Meredith Freeman said, but there’s really no reason why meth is coming back in full force.

“Drugs always go in trends,” she said.

More heroin users are turning to powdered meth that’s mainly snorted, the June 2017 report says. It’s about $20 to $25 for a half-gram, the report says.

People can get high from meth, Aller said, but typically don’t overdose.

“It’s the happier alternative for a lot of drug users,” he said.

However the state patrol has seen meth laced with fentanyl, Aller said.

Seven deaths involved meth last year, Marsh said, but those deaths included versions of fentanyl.

“We never used to get it but now you worry,” he said.

As more opioid users get into recovery, Doolittle said, the community is seeing other drugs rise to the surface.

“Those people are getting well but it doesn’t take away those people who are using whatever else,” she said. “Those people are starting to bubble to the top.”

Meth remains dangerous, Patterson said.

“It will still kill you, it just takes longer,” he said. “It’s very destructive on the human body.”

Needle exchange

The health district and McKinley Hall are working together to open a needle exchange in Clark County later this year, Patterson said. It’s unclear how soon the exchange will open, he said.

MORE: Drug crisis traumatizing children in Clark County, state

The health district must have a public health reason to have a needle needle exchange, he said. The county’s rates of hepatitis C, syphilis and chlamydia are growing, Patterson said. The board of health hasn’t made a decision on a needle exchange at this point, he said.

Montgomery County is kicking off a mobile unit for its needle exchange, Patterson said. Clark County could partner with someone on a similar model, he said.

“The key is informing someone who’s in that situation at every level possible how they could potentially seek help,” Patterson said.

The needle exchange can lead to fewer people throwing needles on the ground or leaving them in public places, Doolittle said.

“They take them in to exchange them,” she said.

The program also provides another intervention point to possibly reach people about their treatment options, Doolittle said.

“It’s about what can we do to reduce the harm caused to other people as a result of this illness,” she said. “If you don’t do it, where are all those needles going now? Needles have been found anywhere. At night, folks will go anywhere to use and they leave the needles right there.”

The future

The Clark County Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Coalition has been together for about four years, Doolittle said.

It recently received funding from the Cardinal Health Foundation to hire a coalition coordinator, she said.

“The key with that is we’ve got somebody dedicated to guiding what it is we’ve developed within the strategic plan,” Doolittle said.

The coalition is in the final stages of formulating its first-ever strategic plan, which was completed by Springfield-based Shiftology Communication. The draft of the plan included three goals:

• Reducing substance abuse in Clark County.

• Preventing substance abuse is Clark County.

• Creating a connected system that makes it easy to qualify for help for substance abuse.

RELATED: Clark County to educate patients about pain pill alternatives

The coalition also is working on a community response plan in case the county experiences another large number of overdoses and overdose deaths as it did in early 2017.

The Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties is also working on six measures to create change in Clark County that will also be included in the plan, Doolittle said.

“Our goal is to get folks educated, get prevention in the schools and to families and make sure we have a full continuum of care for people who are trying to get well,” she said.


Drug crisis in Ohio: What solutions are making a difference?

Clark County to recruit relatives, foster families due to drug crisis

Addicts, family members share stories at Springfield recovery banquet

‘Perfect’ Springfield couple battles addictions, finds recovery

Progress made against drug overdoses in Clark County but war not over

Clark County leaders: Drug ‘emergency’ first step, more action needed

Clark County Jail inmates to learn about life after addiction

DeWine: ‘Never seen anything like’ drug crisis hitting Ohio

Churches unite to open recovery house in Springfield for addicts

Springfield hospital grant will increase screenings to battle opioids

Springfield native living clean, successful after prison, addiction

More prevention needed to curb opioid epidemic in Springfield

New program seeks to reach Clark County overdose patients, save lives

Drug epidemic wreaking havoc on Clark County businesses, economy

Drug crisis traumatizing children in Clark County, state

Money used to fight Clark County drug crisis at risk

More than 100 Clark County law enforcement officers to get Narcan kits

Springfield examines officer, medic safety after Ohio police overdose

Demand for, debate over Narcan soars in Springfield

20 more overdoses in Clark County during 25-hour stretch

Clark County sees another big spike of at least 40 overdoses in 5 days

Clark County leaders pledge to fight addiction stigma, OD crisis

Clark County to charge addicts who OD and don’t seek treatment

Overdose epidemic spreads, strains Springfield first responders

Clark County drug overdoses double in 24-hour spike

Need help right now?

Crisis hotline: Dial 2-1-1 to be connected to mental health and addiction services in Champaign and Clark counties.

Needle exchanges: By exchanging used syringes for new IV drug users are less likely to develop infections or contract HIV or hepatitis C. Each time there is an exchange, a health official has an opportunity to provide counseling; and each time a needle is returned, that’s one less potentially deadly object in a fast-food parking lot or park. Clark County doesn’t have a needle exchange.

Exchanges can be found at the following locations:

• Montgomery County CarePoint, 937-496-7133,

• Vogel Health Center, 6175 W. Third St. in Dayton on Tuesdays from noon to 5 p.m.

• Mt. Olive Baptist Church, 502 Pontiac Ave. in Dayton on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

• Life Enrichment Center, 425 N. Findlay St. in Dayton on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

• Cincinnati Exchange Project, serving Butler County, 513-316-7725

• Greene County SafeTrade, 937-374-5600, Fridays 1 to 4 p.m., 600 Pierce Drive in Fairborn.


The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about opioid and drug problems in Clark County in the past five years, including stories about multiple overdoses in one weekend and efforts to expand treatment options. The News-Sun will continue to take a deep dive into the community’s drug epidemic and what local leaders are doing to solve the problem.

By the numbers

104: Accidental drug overdose deaths in Clark County in 2017, a record.

79: Overdose deaths in 2016

73: Overdose deaths in 2015

330: Total overdose deaths between 2013 and 2017.

7: Suspected drug deaths in 2018, none confirmed as of March 14.

Source: Clark County Coroner's Office

About the Author